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A few things I learned at the retreat

In her recent post about EvCC’s Annual Teaching and Learning Retreat, Peg suggested we might consider it an “advance” rather than a retreat. I like that idea. Instead of withdrawing from the world, we seek to engage with and advance into it. It might not stick as part of the event’s name in the future (I’m not sure what I think of “16th Annual Teaching and Learning Advance”) but I can definitely get behind the principle.

Rosario Beach before sunset, with rocks in the foreground and a tree-covered bluff in the distance
Who wouldn’t want to retreat to this place?

Since this was my first year attending the retreat advance, I didn’t really know what to expect. Would it be one of those events that “strike intense malaise into the hearts of people across higher education”? (Credit to Peg for sharing that as well. Some cautionary tales for anyone involved in planning!) Or would it instead be an opportunity to learn about what my EvCC colleagues are doing, thinking about, and inspired by — and to draw inspiration from them in turn?

I’m happy to say the our retreat clearly belongs in the latter category. No malaise here! I enjoyed myself and learned a great deal. A week later I’m still thinking about a number of the sessions. I could go on about them at great length, but if I had to pick just three personal highlights from the weekend I’d choose these:

Learning to embrace failure

Readers of this blog may recall that I have a certain fondness for thinking about failure as a starting point for learning. So you can imagine I was very happy when Nancy Jones shared her ideas about the importance of failure in art and in life. In particular, Nancy’s suggestion that you should “lunge to your next failure” has stuck with me. The statement was made partly in jest, but it embodies so well the idea of enthusiastically and energetically advancing into new opportunities, (there’s that word again) that I intend to adopt it, too.

Lunge to your next failure!

Nancy Jones

Growth mindset at EvCC

Who says community colleges aren’t actively engaged with educational research? No one at EvCC, I’m sure — but if anyone did, Jed Serven’s presentation of a study that he and other faculty have conducted to test ideas about growth mindset in Physics classes at EvCC should put that notion to rest. I left the session impressed with the results of study, which confirm that a simple values affirmation exercise can have a truly remarkable effect on underrepresented students in science courses at community colleges like ours.

I also enjoyed the thoughtful discussion that emerged from the presentation, particularly the various suggestions for how we can all adopt aspects of a growth mindset in our interactions with students, even if we are not ourselves teaching. One of my favorite ideas involved simply reframing how we express our views about things that are difficult for us. For example, rather than casually saying, “I’ve always been terrible at math, so I don’t blame you for not wanting to take a math class,” you could reframe the statement to be a little more positive in its outlook. “Math is difficult for me,” you might say, “so I really have to work at it. Taking a math class might not be easy for you, but I know that if you do your efforts will pay off.”

In the field

Cove near Rosario BeachNo event at a location as nice as Rosario Beach would be complete without spending a little time outside. It was my good fortune, then, that Steve Grupp led a few of us on a brief, localized field excursion in the immediate vicinity of the Marine Laboratory. Steve showed us several of the features he helps students explore and learn about when he brings Geology classes to the area. As we talked about plate tectonics and faults, basalt, glaciation, beach erosion, and many other topics prompted by the location, I was reminded again of how well field-based learning cultivates careful observation and inductive reasoning abilities. (It’s an unfortunate myth that those of us who work with educational technologies and digital pedagogies don’t value these sorts of opportunities for hands-on, experiential learning. Nothing could be further from the truth!) Above all, though, it was a pleasure to spend time in a beautiful location while learning from an expert viewer and observer.